Old school: NBA players stock up on retro jerseys

Published: Sunday, Dec. 21 2003 12:00 a.m. MST

From retro to modern, NBA jerseys feature stars from past and present

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Back in Michael Jordan's day, NBA players, especially those from glamorous, big-city franchises, impressed each other by wearing expensive suits to and from games. Football, baseball and hockey players did the same.

Now, many have turned to a new standard to catch the eye — the throwback jersey.

"It went from everybody wearing suits to games to wearing retro jerseys to games," says Utah Jazz rookie Mo Williams. "You look at all the teams. It's a jersey thing right now."

Williams' collection numbers more than 20, but he is quick to say, "I don't have as much as DeShawn," deferring to teammate DeShawn Stevenson, who long ago stopped counting his jerseys. He admitted to having spent more than $100,000 on them as of last February, when they were going for $400-plus.

Now, a number of top-line jerseys in the four major American sports can be had for a mere $250-$350.

The rather amazing thing is, people pay these big bucks for shirts that aren't original-issue. "They're authentic," says Stevenson, meaning that they're licensed by the league and the player involved. "They're not worn by the player, but they are authentic. They're made now — much bigger. They're made to fit people now."

In fact, they're not even made by the original manufacturer. The most prized retros are made by Mitchell and Ness of Philadelphia, which makes an old Adrian Dantley green Jazz road shirt and a Pete Maravich New Orleans Jazz shirt. Utah's old uniforms were made by Starter, then by Champion. Team owner Larry H. Miller has most old Jazz stuff warehoused away, except for the few Karl Malone gave away and the set that was once stolen from a trainer's car.

Doesn't matter. What's hot now is made now.

The major sports leagues have caught the trend, seeing big dollars in merchandising and having their teams wear old-style uniforms to promote it.

The Jazz join in starting Jan. 15 when they celebrate their 25th anniversary in Utah by wearing 1979-80-style home white uniforms with the Mardi Gras-colors gold, green and purple Jazz note and trim, manufactured by Reebok. They'll wear throwbacks at least five times, including once on the road, said senior vice president of sales and marketing Jay Francis.

It's part of the NBA's "Hardwood Classics" promotion that began last season; replicas will be available for purchase starting around Jan. 1.

Jazz players are pumped about it, even those who don't purchase retro, like Andrei Kirilenko. "I like that. It will be fine. Trying to feel like the old generation," he says. "I like it. I don't think it's silly," Kirilenko added of the vintage trend. "It's a good idea. New generation. I like something new every time."

"Oh, I'm looking forward to that," says guard Raja Bell about wearing the new old uniforms. "I've seen them, and they're really nice. It gives me a chance to wear something a little different and give people something. They've got the little Jazz note on the front.

"And I think we get a chance to wear some cool socks with the stripes. It will be fun.

"Better if we get a win that night, though," added Bell.

He has about 10 of his own retro jerseys in football, basketball and baseball. "They're a very fun thing to wear, although sometimes it's hard to wear jerseys of people who are playing against you every night," he says. "It gives you an opportunity to wear something that isn't in circulation, and some of the older ones are cooler looking than some of the new ones anyway.

"Everything is retro now. All the retro suits are back. People are going with the vintage look, so the jerseys are just another part of it."

While Stevenson and Williams stick with jerseys of people they admire, Bell buys for the look. "My only sentimental one is (quarterback) Warren Moon. He's my favorite. The rest of them are just for color," he says.

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